NEW YORK — The alleged trapping and torture of three New Yorkers by a gay-bashing Bronx gang has highlighted a wave of anti-homosexual attacks in and around the Big Apple, rights activists said Monday.
"We're living in a really horrible time in America now," said Steven Goldstein of Garden State Equality.
From an alleged assault at the Stonewall Inn, the Manhattan bar where the US gay rights movement was born four decades ago, to the suicide of a Rutgers University student after he was secretly filmed during a gay encounter, it's been a troubling few weeks for homosexuals.
The latest incident, allegedly perpetrated by nine youths from the Latin King Goonies gang, took anti-gay bias to a horrific new level.
In what New York's police commissioner described as a "wolf-pack" attack, the mob allegedly forced a 17-year-old into a deserted Bronx basement apartment, stripped, beat and slashed him, before sodomizing him with a toilet-plunger handle.
His crime? The gang thought he was gay, police say.
According to police, the gang members, aged between 17 and 23 years old, then abducted another 17-year-old, who the first victim said was gay.
After tying up and beating the boy, the gang allegedly lured in a 30-year-old man who was thought to have been the second teen's lover.
The older man was stripped, sodomized with a small baseball bat, forced to drink large quantities of alcohol, and burned with a cigarette, Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
"This was a reaction to the fact that they had engaged in homosexual activity," Kelly said.
The incident allegedly took place on October 3, but only came to light late last week. Eight of the accused were arraigned Sunday and police are searching for a ninth suspect.
Activists said the lurid incident highlights more widespread dangers.
"There's much more attention paid to these kinds of problems right now," said Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "But so many of the hate crimes occur and are not reported."
Just last week, two men were charged with assault as a hate crime for a beating inside Stonewall, the bar made famous in 1969 as the site of gay rights demonstrations.
Late last month, it emerged that a promising first-year student at Rutgers, in New Jersey, threw himself off a Manhattan bridge after his college roommate allegedly secretly filmed him having a sexual encounter with another man and then posted the footage online.
The victim, Tyler Clementi, was one of four teenagers who committed suicide across the United States after gay-related bullying in the last few weeks, rights organizations say.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he was "sickened" by the alleged assaults in the Bronx.
But homosexuality remains a divisive political issue.
The outspoken Republican candidate in upcoming elections for New York state gubernatorial elections, Carl Paladino, campaigned this weekend against gay marriage.
On Monday, Paladino addressed critics of his comments and berated his Democratic opponent's decision to take his children to watch a gay pride parade.
"Young children should not be exposed... to homosexuality, especially at a gay pride parade," Paladino said on NBC television. "I don't know if you've ever been to one, but they wear these little Speedos and they grind against each other. That's a terrible thing."
Goldstein said politicians should help create tolerance.
"Working to a fairer or more inclusive society doesn't mean every psycho or anti-gay won't suddenly not be a psycho, but it would be a start," he said.
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